PINETOP-LAKESIDE — W7RJB and KA7JOI are not just random sets of numbers and letters, but rather the on-air names of Randy Beecroft and Vince Cattolica, leaders of the Kachina Amateur Radio Club.
On Saturday though, they organized one of the White Mountain’s most unique events, Hamfest, where Ham radio enthusiast and operators from across the state gathered to sell radios, practice broadcasting and share their love of the craft.
While amateur radios have decreased in popularity over the decades, their practicality and use remain as important as ever.
“It’s one of the few things that will still work when other things don’t,” Beecroft said. “We provide emergency services to the community and if they call, we just take our gear and set up.”
When combined with recent technology such as portable solar cells, the radio operators can function completely off the grid.
At the start of the Rodeo-Chediski Fire in 2002, the Ham radio operators were prepared, communicating with emergency personnel to send out weather advisories and reports.
“When the fire broke out, everyone in the White Mountains jumped on their cell phone and shut down all cellular communications,” said Cattolica. “Ham radio was the only reliable option.”
For most of the Hamfest attendees, the hobby is something they were passed on from their family and neighbors.
According to Dwayne Houlihan, his uncle was constantly playing with CV radios and from there, they experimented with Ham radios in the 1980s and ’90s. In Beecroft’s case, he remembers the day he stepped into his neighbor’s backyard shed and being amazed at the wall-to-wall radio equipment issuing a variety of sounds and flashing lights.
A majority of the club being retired individuals, many of them say they go on-air every night and, “talk about everything and anything,” according to…